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Balfour ‘celebration’ reflection

Last evening, Nov. 7th 2017,  people gathered at London’s Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the Balfour Declaration of 2nd Nov. 1917, as ‘Partners in this great Enterprise’. Christians and Jews together celebrating the creation of modern Israel and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population. Maybe some of my readers will be upset by that description but if we are honest it is difficult to put any other interpretation of the facts.

Gathering inside, a mighty congregation; well, actually not so mighty. One member of ‘Raised Voices’ commented that there didn’t seem to be many people going in. I’d calculate no more than 2000 including performers, (a 600 member choir from Denmark?), in a venue that can hold over 5,000.

Outside? A very mixed bunch. Handing our leaflets was difficult, especially when RAH security backed by a massive police presence insisted we could not hand out leaflets on private property. When I was able, most people refused, were not interested in a Palestinian Christian viewpoint. Some, did take leaflets and some, a very few, seemed genuinely interested in a different perspective; they were mostly younger people.

There were pro-Israel demonstrators outside as well, including the couple from Ireland who’d ‘entertained’ us on Saturday, (not sure whether they’re sectionable, but probably harmless). One woman and her friend became quite aggressivly verbally angry when she read the banner I was carrying. The text ran as follows: ‘Biblical Christians reject imperialist, exceptionalist, Zionism. Exceptionalism is racism, “There is no distinction …” If God will not, we must not.’

What infuriated her, I believe, is that I was, ‘standing on her ground’ – ‘Bible-believing’ Christians take all God’s word seriously, and that means Zionism, the rest of us must be ‘liberals’ who don’t really believe anything and can’t really be Christian. So when I say I am a bible-believing Christian she refuses to believe it, I must really be a ‘toy’ of the ‘Muslim extremists’ who were chantinf ‘Free Palestine’ just a few metres away. More to say maybe, later, but now it’s time for a little relaxation and a coffee.

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A Sad Centenary

This day, 2nd November, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the letter from Arthur Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Secretary in 1917, to Lord Rothschild as representing British Jewry. It is an indictment of Britain’s present government and many opposition members of parliament that they will be celebrating this event.

There is little for which to be proud. A degree of protection for Jews? Maybe, but at what cost. Might the Nazi holocaust have been averted had Zionism not been on the rise? That question may be impossible to answer, but it is well known that Nazis and Zionists wanted much the same thing: Jews out of Europe.

The Nazis didn’t much care where they went, it was Zionism that focussed on Palestine. Not because it was the best place in terms of space and population but because it was the only place that would have attracted the bulk of European Jewry, who, in the main, were not interested in Zionism.

Britain’s part in this, dating back to 19th century evangelicalism and beyond, should not be underplayed and should certainly not be celebrated. Apologising for the ‘sins of the fathers’ may seem pointless. It is unless it is accompanied by genuine action to put right the wrongs committed in our name. Britain and America together share major responsibility for the mess that is the Middle East. It is our duty to help people of goodwill – and they are there – to begin putting things right. If our leaders will not then we, the people, must.

The Ryle justification

Humility is essential when addressing one such as J.C. Ryle, first bishop of Liverpool and beacon of 19th century Anglican Evangelicalism, and I am sure there will be those who suggest that humility is not my strong point.

In his book ‘Are You Ready for the End of Time’ Ryle claims that Christians have taken literally the biblical condemnations – and applied them to the Jews – and taken spiritually the promises – and applied them to the church. There is a deal of truth in his warning, and much that he writes to which we should pay attention, even 150 years after he published. If he is correct in diagnosing a problem, he is wrong in identifying the treatment; seriously mistaken in his understanding of how the prophetic works. Ryle insists that, whether for the first or second advent, (and his direct concern is of the Second), our interpretation of prophecy must be literal and exact. If only scripture were that straightforward. As a beginning example, not of prophecy but of God’s direct word, we have the flood story. In Genesis chapter 6, to himself God says, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created, people together with animals…”. Then to Noah,

“I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth… I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy it from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.”

Sounds fairly straightforward, especially if we take it literally and exactly, ‘but Noah found favour in God’s sight’. Taken literally and exactly as Ryle wants involves a literal and exact contradiction. The problem isn’t God’s; it is Ryle’s, and ours. The ancient peoples of Israel would have understood. Here is a relatively simple example of how paradox is used to create tension in a story. God will destroy: God will destroy utterly: but grace is present, if faith can be found.

Ryle, in his book, demands that we speak to ‘the Jew’ as literally about the Second Coming as we do about Christ’s first; that we are as exact with Isaiah 11 as we are with Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 is clearly understood by Christians as referring to Jesus, see for example Acts 8: 26-39. Yet even here there is paradox. The one who was “despised and rejected by others”, the one who had “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” was so undesirable that – paradoxically to spell it out – he attracted hundreds to hear his words and feel his healing touch. Some even thought he might be Messiah. If there is paradox here then try reading Isaiah 53 in the context of chapters 48 onwards (noting, perhaps especially in this context, chapter 49 verses five and six).

Ryle wants his readers, including presumably those who promote the modern state of Israel by quoting him in their publicity, to pay as exact and literal attention to Isaiah 11 as to Isaiah 53. Let us see what happens when we do. The first problem is where to begin. The chapter and verse divisions so familiar to us are a relatively late development: chapter divisions from the 13th century and verses from the 16th. (Complicating matters, The Masoretic text, so I understand, is in some places divided differently).

We could begin for example in chapter 8 where is prophesied that the king of Assyria will take the spoil of Samaria’ and ‘Sweep on into Judah as a flood’ with the strange ascriptions ‘Immanu el’ ‘God is with us’. Exactitude here is problematic, for, whilst Assyria took Samaria, and, one presumes, it’s ‘spoil’, in 722 BC., it was another Empire and a different century before Judah was overtaken: by Babylon in the period 597 to 585 BC.  Does it need a ‘nod’ toward that ‘failed prophet’, Jonah, for us to understand that prophecy often foretells a future that will happen unless we change. The paradox, present from Moses onwards (read Deuteronomy) is that even when people change, as with, for example, Hezekiah, it won’t be sustained, see Manasseh (2 Chron. 29 & 33).

Moving on into chapter 9 we meet an early ‘fulfilment’ reference from Matthew’s Gospel ‘so that what has been spoken…’ (Matt 4: 13-17 referencing Isaiah 9:1-2). Chapter 9 has the verse, ‘For a child has been born for us …’ clearly: even exactly: a first Advent reference. That being said Chapter 10 verse 1 on could stand for the Israel of today,

‘Ah, you, who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice … what will you do on the day of punishment …?’

In the same chapter we read of ‘a remnant of Israel’, ‘a remnant of Jacob’ and we are told:

For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord God will make a full end, as decreed in all the earth. Isa 10:22-23).

the text could indeed signify the second advent beginning as it does ‘on that day’ (v.20) but not without difficulty. If we are looking for literal exactitude we must ask when were the people of Israel even ‘like the sand of the sea’. Also, is ‘that day’ at verse 20 the same day as ‘that day’ at verse 27, a problem that extends into Chapter 11 at verses 10 and 11, and on into chapter 12 at verse one.

If these chapters speak exactly and only of the second Advent then Chapter 11, set in the middle of them, raises further problems for Bishop Ryle. Is the ‘shoot’ and ‘branch’ of verse 2 the same as the ‘root of Jesse’ at verse 10; and, if not, why, and what determines the difference? If verses 1 to 3 are clearly first advent where do we locate the subsequent verses? They seem to be both now, verse 5, but not yet, verse 6. For Bishop Ryle and those who use his writing in support of Israel, the modern nation state, problems multiply from verse 10. These verses, given as evidence for a Jewish pre-second-coming ‘restoration to their land’, are actually evidence to the contrary. Only ‘on that day’ will ‘the Lord… extend his hand… and assemble (them) from the four corners of the earth’. Taking this text literally and exactly, if it is ‘second Advent’, then the assembling of Israel and Judah takes place on that day and not before. (All of which raises important questions as to the meaning of ‘on that day’. Questions which cannot be dealt with here).

Another text put forward by Bishop Ryle, and used by Balfour ‘celebrationists’ as justifying belief in the restoration of Jews to their land before the second Advent, is Jeremiah 30: 10-11. Once again these verses, placed in their context, are far from straightforward, especially given Ryle’s insistence on a literal and exact understanding. Verse 11 for instance concludes, ‘… I will chastise you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished,’ which, when compared with the fate of ‘all the nations’ seems good until we read on into verses 12 and 13: ‘… Your hurt is incurable and your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you.’ This continues into verse 15, ‘why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great…’ . But, ‘for I will restore health to you…’ in verse 17. Could it not be more evident that we are in the realm of metaphor and paradox. However much we may desire helpful literalism, scripture denies us; there is work to be done.

Here, again we have ‘that day’ in verses 7 and 8 and ‘the days’ in verse 3. Whichever way we read these verses, if they refer to a nation of Jacob returning to Palestine that event must be post-second Advent. If the attempt is made to locate verse 8 in the events 1947-9, we are required to make a biblically unjustifiable separation from verse 9, ‘they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, who I will raise up for them’. In any case verse 8 depends on the action of ‘the Lord of hosts’, on that day’. There is a clear indication of an event that is Righteous, and completed with an identified individual about whom there can be no doubt, by contrast with a wholly human, and heavily unrighteous, series of events which began before 1948 and continue to this day.

Ryle’s use of Daniel chapter 12 verse 1, I find particularly odd. To be sure, Michael is identified as ‘the protector of your people’ but there is nothing here about restoration to the land. Taken as literally as possible ‘your people shall be delivered’ is not to land but to judgement. Christians believe that Jesus will return for the final judgement. Daniel writes ‘many shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt’ . There is nothing here to justify belief in the restoration of Jews to Palestine (on the assumption – unproven and unprovable – that Jews are the ethnic descendents of Jacob-Israel and sole inheritors of the land promises to Abraham and Jacob).

Balfour Centenary -96 Days

The latest from my count-down blog on the Balfour Centenary. To return to ‘Malc’ and his comment. Of course it is possible that God can use heathen pagan’s to carry out his will.  That’s clearly the case in some of the Old Testament writings.  But who does what is not the point at issue, which is, how can we discern God’s will in these matters?

In many of the books I’ve read – pro and con – the writers, if Christian, tell of an incident or an experience pointing in a direction. Then, following prayer and Bible study they understand God to be calling them in a particular direction. That is my story. I didn’t choose to be spending my time fighting for justice for the Middle East. It was an entirely unexpected direction from God, ‘well he would say that, wouldn’t he?’, which is precisely the point. How can we tell when many apparently Godly men and women hold opposing views of what God is doing?

Both sides will assert, rightly, that Bible study and prayer are crucial. Are there other clues or hints that will point us in the right direction? I believe there are, for starters:

First, never assume that our understanding of ‘the Word’ is the right or only one. I may be wrong or only partly right, and I can often learn, even from people with whom I fundamentally disagree.

Second, look for the bigger picture, starting from the Bible. Many of our sectarian problems began when people, especially in Britain, gained access to God’s word in English and read it bit by bit and literally. Stand back, read whole chunks, then read them again, and again in a different version.

Third, and always, try to see what God has done, is doing and will do. What is the story of the Bible; the over-arching narrative that underpins all else.

Fourth, what are the things that contradict or get in the way of our Spirit-enabled mission to the ends of the earth?

Returning to ‘Malc’ and Balfour inspired, No, I don’t see how it fits. Given our Jewish Messiah and given the gospel and our ambassadorial mandate (Acts 2 following Matthew and Luke), if Balfour was inspired it was not from God.

Balfour 100

For those who follow my blog, for the next 100 days leading up to the centenary of the Balfour Declaration Here

 

100 days to Balfour

Well, not quite. But, from 26th July I plan a new blog focussed on those 100 days u7p to 2nd November.

There’ll be some comment, but mostly I’ll be putting infront of people archival material to show something of the true nature of British diplomacy and Zionist attitudes during them period up to Balfour’s letter and to the declaration of the ‘Jewish State’.

It’s not publishhed yet, so, what this space…

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